LaToya Tonodeo is on the verge of becoming a household name following her breakout role in “Power Book II: Ghost.”
Tonodeo’s character Diana Tejada is the daughter of drug traffickers Monet and Lorenzo Tejada (portrayed by Mary J. Blige and Berto Colon, respectively). In addition to serving as the support system for the Tejada family’s elaborate schemes, the rising queenpin has her heart set on going to college. Diana also has eyes for Tariq St. Patrick, who is played by “Power Book II: Ghost” lead Michael Rainey Jr.
The action-packed season 2 finale ended with Monet receiving the heartbreaking news that her son Ezekiel Cross had been gunned down. More affectionately known as Zeke, the young NBA hopeful had only recently learned that Monet was his mother and that his dad was her former lover, undercover federal informant Dante Spears (also known as Mecca). To top that off, fans are at the edge of their seats wondering how Monet is going to react when she realizes her husband Lorenzo is responsible for Zeke’s death.
During our interview, the 24-year-old actress spoke on the strength of the “Power Book II” ladies, working alongside Mary J. Blige, and also discussed filming the infamous dinner table scene that saw her spill all of her mom’s tea. Tonodeo also shared some relationship advice for her onscreen character.
All the women in “Power Book II” play a vital role in every storyline. How important do you think women are to the success of the show and society as a whole?
Ooh, I love that question. Well, I believe it’s important to the show. I mean, it’s representation. It’s showing all different types of women. Not only that — we have some strong Black women like Monet. She’s a boss. I understand the type of business she’s a boss of, but it still shows her strength. It shows how smart she is. For Diana, it shows even though she’s a young girl trying to maneuver and figure out her way, she’s learning from a boss. You’re seeing that she’s strategic. It’s important because it’s representation and to be able to see yourself matters. It makes you feel inspired.
I’ve watched the dinner table scene like three times. Can you describe what it was like filming it?
Oh God. First of all, I really enjoyed it. We shot it over the course of two days and we killed it. Just like you watched it three times, I probably watched it three or four times as well. It took me forever to finish that episode because I kept rewinding it. I wasn’t expecting for Monet to lunge like that because it wasn’t written that way, and when she lunged who did I go to? My dad. I was afraid, like, oh my God … the energy we gave it even though the camera wasn’t always on us when we had to give our lines. I appreciate everybody in that scene — because even when it wasn’t on them, they’re still giving that energy for you to feed off of because you can’t act in a scene by yourself. If it’s a monologue, yeah, but that’s a collective, a whole ensemble. And I feel like we murdered it. We murdered it. It’s the ‘Nuclear Dinner.’ It’s not that title for no reason. You know?
Aside from the drama within her own family, this season also focused on Diana’s love for Tariq St. Patrick. What relationship advice would LaToya give Diana?
I would tell Diana to not even play around with that — exactly what Monet has been trying to tell her. I would say, ‘Listen to your momma, she’s telling you the truth. Tread lightly he has a lot of things going on.’ Not even just with the [other] women. He has a lot of things going on: He’s trying to get his sister back, his mother is in witness protection … like, so many things going on. How can he focus on trying to have a relationship? He’s in school, tread lightly or just don’t even deal with that.
Diana and Effie both hooked up with Tariq after their conversation. Are fans going to see them interact again in season 3?
I hope so. I really had a good time working with Alix [Lapri], so that would be nice. I feel like Effie and Diana could be a nice little duo situation. I don’t know how it’s gonna work now since Tariq is in the middle, but uh, we’ll see. It would be nice.
The “Power Book II: Ghost” cast is filled with legends like Mary J. Blige, Method Man, 50 Cent and Larenz Tate. How is it playing Mary J. Blige’s onscreen daughter and what’s the biggest lesson you learned from her?
Oh my gosh. Power, voice, confidence, stillness. Mary’s stillness. She could be so still in a scene and I love that because sometimes we wanna move and go, but I like her stillness. She’s an icon. She’s been doing that forever, so it’s easy for her to center and be still, and that is so beautiful to see. Then her confidence and her power — she knows who she is. She’s not a diva or nothing like that, but she recognizes her power. She is a strong woman and I admire that. So, I would say that’s something that I definitely look up to because it’s easier said than done. You could be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m confident,’ but to actually live in that and sit in that is another thing. I feel like I can learn a lot from her in that aspect.
What were you doing prior to landing your role as Diana Tejada?
Grinding, hustling. Trying to find that role that you think is going to catapult your career, and then you don’t get it. There was a job that I thought was going to be the one, but I didn’t get it. That was the first time that I actually cried about it. Usually I’m optimistic, but that one got me — but if I had booked that movie that didn’t do much of anything, I wouldn’t have been available for this. So grind, grind, prayer, affirmations, and boom. Now we’re here.
Were there any roles that you previously auditioned for but didn’t get, and the project turned out to be huge?
There is one that I really wanted really bad. I don’t know how it would’ve worked because we were filming “Power” anyway. But, “The Woman King” starring Viola Davis — I was here for it. So beautiful. That would’ve been nice. That would’ve been beautiful.
What advice do you have for young girls pursuing a career in acting?
I would say definitely recognize your power. Recognize regardless of where you are in your career, you have a voice and trust yourself. No matter how hard it is, ‘cause as creatives we wanna get in our head. Trust yourself, trust your instincts and stay in [acting] class. Find a class that challenges you and that’s not gonna baby you … baby your feelings or tell you, ‘That was a good take’ when it was not. Find a coach that is honest … gently. You don’t want someone just tearing you down because that could be hurtful, but find a good class and stay true to yourself.
Who are some of the women in your life that mentor you or that you look up to?
My mother and my grandmother who passed away. She’s so strong … so strong. Actually a friend of mine, she is also a very strong woman. She’s very still as well — clearly it’s something that I wanna work on. You always still gotta check on your strong friend, but they inspire me and they keep me on my toes.